LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky’s latest highly touted freshman class showed their expected potential, but only after a boost from the veterans.
Isaiah Briscoe scored 17 points, Derek Willis added 15 and No. 2 Kentucky went on to an 87-64 season-opening victory over Stephen F. Austin on Friday night.
An opener expected to highlight the Wildcats’ latest group of talented freshmen instead saw veterans such as sophomore guard Briscoe and Willis, a senior forward, shoulder the load. They combined to make 11 of 18 from the field while their experience offset the newcomers’ early shooting troubles. Seven-foot sophomore Isaac Humphries (9 points, 8 rebounds) filled a big inside void with 6-10 freshman Bam Adebayo (five points) hampered by foul trouble.
Senior guard Mychal Mulder, a transfer who scored just 12 points last season for the Wildcats, had eight on a team-high two 3-pointers.
“Before the game Coach (John Calipari) reminded us that they’re young and it’s their first game, so make sure everything out there is in order,” said Briscoe, who worked out for several NBA teams last spring before deciding to return for a second season.
Several freshmen did their part with forward Wenyen Gabriel scoring 10 first-half points off the bench. Guard De’Aaron Fox added 12 points and broke a 36-year-old program record for assists in an opener with 12, while Malik Monk had 10 second-half points.
Isaiah Traylor scored 15 points and Leon Gilmore III had 12 with 11 rebounds for Stephen F. Austin, which lost the debut of coach Kyle Keller. The Lumberjacks outrebounded Kentucky 36-28 but committed 28 turnovers leading to 32 points.
Stephen F. Austin: Despite losing eight players from last year’s team, the Lumberjacks early on resembled the competitive NCAA Tournament team that upset third-seeded West Virginia before losing by five points to No. 6 seed Notre Dame in the second. They slowed the pace before the Wildcats’ height and depth took over.
Keller became first of three SFA coaches this century to lose his debut, but the Lumberjacks should make a strong push for their first straight Southland Conference regular season title.
“When we look back on this game, we’re going to draw on it,” said Keller, who took over after being a Texas A&M assistant. “We’re going to get a lot of confidence from this.”
Kentucky: Willis followed up last season’s breakout by being the steadying force early, making 3 of 4 field goals with two blocks. He finished with five rebounds. Humphries was a pleasant surprise with Adebayo spending much of the first half on the bench. The Wildcats shot 50 percent but were still outrebounded.
“We’re one of those teams that is so young,” Calipari said, “not disciplined enough defensively, should be a better rebounding team. We got outrebounded.”
Kentucky is likely to remain in position and won’t face that question until after meeting No. 12 Michigan State next week in New York.
Calipari preaches unselfishness to players and brags about his succession of standout point guards that have set the tone, most recently by Tyler Ulis. Fox offered glimpses of being Kentucky’s next floor general by breaking Dirk Minniefield’s old mark of 11 assists against Butler on Nov. 27, 1982.
“I didn’t even realize I was doing it,” Fox said. “I knew I wasn’t shooting the ball well. Teammates were cutting and finishing when I was passing the ball to them, so all the credit is to them.”
BAM’S ROUGH NIGHT
Adebayo was expected to get most of the attention because of his NBA-caliber game and build. But his physical style drew two quick fouls and four overall, leaving him with just one rebound in 15 minutes.
Stephen F. Austin: Returns home to host Longwood on Tuesday and regroup from the loss.
Kentucky: Hosts Canisius on Sunday in the first meeting between the schools since 1998. The Wildcats have won previous games against the Golden Griffins and seek a strong tuneup before facing No. 12 Michigan State on Tuesday in New York.
AP college basketball: collegebasketball.ap.org